Japan has Territorial Issues with Russia, too

“On Trenin’s Proposal for Russia to Return Four Disputed Islands to Japan”
Hakamada Shigeki
GFJ Commentary
February 28, 2013

As if having to argue with China and Korea over rocks was not complex enough for Japan, a third territorial counterparty is (re)emerging in the form of Moscow. It seems like, since everyone else in the neighborhood wants to clarify territorial issues, the Russians are chiming in as well.

This time, the tone is conciliatory, even though it does not come from the Kremlin. Dmitri Trenin, who directs the Carnegie Moscow Centre, put out a paper in December of 2012 proposing a mechanism by which four islands taken by the USSR from Japan at the end of World War II would be returned to Japanese control.

Professor Hakamada Shigeki of the University of Niigata prefecture is cool to the proposal. While conceding that any such opening is worth pursuing, he is under no illusions about Trenin’s position (a Western-funded think tanker rather than a Kremlin insider) and Putin‘s continuing need to prove to Russians he is a strongman.

To expect Russia to concede territory for nothing would be unrealistic. But Hakamada sees other wheels at work. China looms large for Russia (especially after Xi Jinping’s recent visit) but Putin will not want to close out other options in the region. Working out longstanding territorial disputes with Japan would allow Russia to play the conciliator in a Sino-Japanese standoff, and would keep Japan in the game as an alternate destination for Siberian natural gas.

The source of the suggestion is Machiavellian. To have the suggestion come from the Carnegie Centre could be serving as Putin’s trial balloon, giving him a chance to judge Japanese reaction without committing himself publicly.

The next move, as Hakamada hints, is Japan’s. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Clearly, the diplomatic game is afoot in East Asia.

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On the Rack: Strategic Studies Quarterly

Demilitarized Zone, North Korea

Demilitarized Zone, North Korea (Photo credit: yeowatzup)

Strategic Studies Quarterly
Winter 2012

The SSQ for Winter 2012 is out and on the racks. There is nothing specific about China in this edition, but a couple of articles might capture the imagination of China hands.

USAF Colonel Vincent Alcazar offers some thinking about how to counter “anti-access/area denial” strategies pursued by potential adversaries, including China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Interesting to note that Russia is back on the boogey-man board.

RAND’s Bruce Bennett offers some ideas on deterring North Korea from using WMD. What is fascinating about the article is its underlying assumption: deterrence depends on the actions of the U.S. and the Republic of Korea. The hint is clear: US planners no longer feel they can count on China’s help in addressing the Korean nuclear threat.

As always, a half dozen excellent reads. It is telling, though, that most of the contributors in this Air Force publication are not serving or former USAF officers. One wonders if there is a brain drain sapping the formerly deep intellectual pool of America’s air service.